In order to curb bullying, a proactive implementation in curriculums and the continuity of communication, as well as disciplinary measures, are of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, there is often a tragedy waiting to happen, which is why it is very important to create preventative programs and introduce anti-bullying legislation.
Schools, students, and families now have the law on their side, but it does not stop there. Schools are responsible for collecting and reporting data regarding bullying incidents. On September 13, 2010, New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act was signed into a law, and took effect on July 1, 2012.
The act seeks to provide the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus or at a school function.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi helped pass the Dignity for All Students Act. He stated, “Additionally, I worked with the NYPD's School Safety Division to deliver presentations to students in our community, which reinforced the serious emotional and physical consequences that can result from bullying,” he said. “It is my hope that we continue to prioritize bullying prevention, as essential to ensuring the healthy development of our youth."
“The impact of bullying is extremely harmful to our children,” said Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz. “It can damage a child’s self-esteem on a permanent basis, which can lead to many serious problems. Putting a stop to bullying is a responsibility we all share as a community. The goal is to create an environment where every child can thrive, free from the fear of being bullied.”
In recent years, many city schools have adopted a zero tolerance policy. Lori Stahl-Van Brackle, a resident of Fresh Meadows, teaches a Computer Talent class at Halsey JHS 157 in Forest Hills.
Last year, Halsey worked with an organization known as Rachel's Challenge, and coordinated a program addressing the nature of bullying, and its often devastating effects. Rachel Scott was a 17 year-old student at Columbine, but her life ended when she became the first shooting victim.
“Rachel was very inspiring, and discussed doing good and creating a link of kindness, but sadly, that did not matter to the killers,” Stahl-Van Brackle said.
Halsey holds open anti-bullying discussions at assemblies. The students of Stahl-Van Brackle’s class hold presentations on the increasingly dominant subject of cyber-bullying. They created an anti-bullying website, and promoted their work.
“Cyber-bullying is a 21st century issue, and kids need to be aware of what to do if it happens to them, and even be able to realize it as a case of cyber-bullying,” she said. “No child should feel that they are not important and respected.”
According to Stahl-Van Brackle, disciplinary measures begin with a verbal warning, depending on the seriousness of the bullying. If there is physical abuse, the dean is informed, and the students will face in-house suspension. Parents are also called often and become involved.
“We realize that a child who lashes out like that is not doing so without reason, and part of our jobs as educators, is to try and find out why and help solve the root of the problem,” she said.
One major factor, she added, is “a home life in which there is no supportive adult supervision.”
Some victims find the courage to become an advocate for countless others. A classic example is a teen named Jamie Isaacs of Lake Grove, NY. She attends The Knox School, and founded The Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying.
She is also the author of "In Jamie's Words,” which takes readers on a journey through her life, and offers a guide to victims, their families, and school officials.
Isaacs explained a detailed account of bullying throughout her schooling, where pleas often fell upon deaf ears.
“The bullying started right after my 8th birthday, by a girl who I thought was my best friend,” she said. “She would trip me on the bus and hit me in the face with her backpack. As the years went on, she recruited more and more girls to join in on the daily abuse.
“In the 4th and 5th grade, girls would send me threatening messages, stating that they were going to break into my house and kill me,” she continued. “On the first day of 6th grade, there was a sign-up list for the ‘I Hate Jamie Club,’ where bullies were going to kill me one day after school. Throughout the entire experience, my parents were constantly at the school and district office trying to rectify the situation, but they never wanted to help me.”
Sixty percent of children in New York admit to being bullied, according to Isaacs, who characterizes it into physical, verbal, cyber, and silent bullying which includes spreading rumors. Some frequent causes are jealousy towards one’s appearance or grades, or the bias towards a disability or ethnic background.
In the form of relationships, bullies consistently attempt to control their partner, undermine their value, humiliate them in front of others, as well as withhold affection.
Nevertheless, bullying is non-stereotypical, and can happen to anyone. All forms of bullying share the commonality of casting an emotional and mental toll upon its victims.
In addition to the Dignity For All Students Act, Isaacs helped write and pass the Suffolk County Cyber-Bullying Law with Legislator Jon Cooper. Governor Andrew Cuomo's new bill, The New York State Educational Bullying Law, which she helped him write and pass as well, is expected to become official in July 2013.
It would require schools to report all bullying incidents to the state, and proceed in taking the proper measures to control the situation within the school district.
On August 15, Isaacs made a presentation at Rikers Island Prison.
“I spoke to about 150 out of 600 adolescent inmates between the ages of 16 and 18 on how it's important to realize that what you do has an effect on everyone,” she said. “But also about how it's never too late to change for the better, and turn lemons into lemonade.”
This month, Isaacs plans on coordinating a number of anti-bullying presentations throughout Queens.
People are now using Facebook to prevent and counteract bullying, as well. A recommended Facebook page is The Jamie Isaacs Foundation For Anti-Bullying, and a recommended group is NY Families Against Bullying.